06 October 2007

Thoughts on Standardization

Just a quick thought on education for this Saturday. I hope to be back writing on a more frequent basis beginning next week. Back-to-back colds (or a cold followed by a sinus infection…can’t figure out which) knocked me down for a bit.

Regardless, since I’m back in the teaching world again, I think about it more habitually than while I was in Australia. While I was away, I could think about things in a more objective manner, perhaps. Now that I’m living and working in the US again, certain issues seem to be staring me in the face.

The first is that there appears to be a drive to standardize. Curricula, lesson plans, tests, methods – all of those things that end up driving the day-to-day classroom. From the federal down to the local level, there are pressures to dictate just how things are accomplished in the classroom. Standardization is put in place, it is said, to ensure accountability. What it really does, though, is substitute for accountability.

Consider standardized curricula. If I, as a teacher, am told what to teach, how to teach and when to teach, I have no ownership of what happens in the classroom. I am a script-reader, a paper-pusher, and, some might say, a baby sitter. What’s more, I am not really accountable for what I teach. I’m just a voice box. The curriculum I operate from is an entity outside of myself; it is the one tool I have to hammer a nail and cut a pizza, so to speak.

And who is accountable for something huge like a mandated curriculum? It becomes a thing with its own life, with its own sense of being. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster created by a consortium of personalities divorced from the implementation of the curriculum and the classroom in which it is taught. As a thing completely on its own, it is the stopping point for accountability.

Another problem with the “standardization of everything” is that it seems to ignore the opposing point of view that each student learns things just a little differently and that classes within themselves have different characters about them. Some work well with some techniques, others with others. And indeed, teachers need the flexibility to explore and expand techniques to better serve their students and emphasize their own strengths.

But if teachers must use one way to teach all students (through some utopian egalitarianism), learning will fall to the lowest denominator of both student and teacher abilities.

Then again, I could be wrong. Perhaps there is one way for all teachers of subject “x” to teach all students in that subject one thing. Perhaps teaching is more science than technique (or applied science). Perhaps educational plans should be developed in a checklist fashion and the “dream” of using computers to deliver learning will, at some point, come to fruition. But then where would students gain experience attempting to act like young adults in a formal setting? I don’t suppose that there are standardized curricula on acting like an adult. Or is that called “life coaching”?

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